Anthropology Student Seeks Degree to Thank Mom, Dig Up Latin American Roots

Story by Rachel Williams, UCF Today

Kimberly Batres was too young to remember, but her mother often went hungry.

As a single mother living in Guatemala with daughters 7 and 3 years old, Alison Batres earned just enough money working in a family-owned bakery to pay rent and feed her children.

Fed up and in search of a better life, she moved with her daughters to Miami, where her mother lived and worked as a housekeeper. Becoming a housekeeper herself, she saved enough money to get a place of her own five years later. Although still a modest lifestyle – a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Miami’s predominantly Cuban neighborhood called Little Havana – the move positioned her daughters to attend a school that ultimately led to Kimberly Batres pursuing something no one else in her family had: a college degree.

Batres, now a junior at the University of Central Florida, is studying both anthropology and Latin American studies to work toward a career in archaeology. She plans to root her future research in Guatemala to discover its unmasked history and to further connect with her heritage.

“One of the things I realized, through my minor in history, is a lot of research and resources accumulated for anthropology either go to Europe or the Middle East,” Batres said. “There isn’t much to document Latin America, and what there is, it’s information from an outsider. I want to bring the perspective of someone from that country.”

Batres wants to help dig up undiscovered Mayan temples and precolonial sites and identify the history behind them.

“With archaeology, we’re out there excavating, documenting everything we find and uncovering history. What people often don’t consider with archaeology is we include the local community people in our work. We also work to preserve cultural identity,” said Amanda Groff, Ph.D., UCF archaeology associate lecturer. “When we involve locals, it gives them a sense of ownership in what we uncover, which can lead to a greater desire to preserve it.”

Batres’ Guatemalan heritage can assist in her archaeology efforts, Groff said. That’s because the locals may be more willing to interact and participate because Batres has an established connection with their community and culture.

Batres’ educational success, which spans from being part of LEAD Scholars, Volunteer UCF and the President’s Leadership Council, began to blossom in 6th grade when an inspiring teacher helped her discover her love of history and opened her eyes to the possibility of attending college. A higher education was encouraged by Batres mother and grandmother but not often discussed, as neither of them had attended college.

Taking every advanced placement course she could in high school, often staying until 9 p.m. to study, plus joining clubs, sports teams and working part-time at Publix to pay for her college applications ultimately led to Batres’ acceptance at UCF. Now, a drive to one day help support her mom to thank her for her sacrifices pushes Batres to keep going.

“My mom worked from nothing to having her own apartment and to being comfortable enough to not be starving anymore,” Batres said. “Seeing her hard work has motivated me to work hard, too, and return the favor to her one day.”

Batres also wants to encourage others to pursue their dreams, as she’s seen firsthand how hard work pays off. As part of Volunteer UCF, Batres now is coordinating a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to help homeless families get back on their feet through an organization called Charlotte Family Housing. The volunteers also will work with Wings for Kids, an organization that helps low-income elementary and middle school students learn emotional and social intelligence through after-school programs.

Batres and nine other students will spend their spring break, March 12-18, volunteering with the organizations.

“We can give these kids the perspective of what they can accomplish if they continue in school,” Batres said. “I was sort of in their situation, too.”

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